The Final Proposal

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The activities of immigrant youth have always been and continue to be an essential part of the American experience. As a country made up of newcomers, the U.S. has been historically transformed by the incorporation of foreigners and their children. Immigrants have arrived, settled, and continue to arrive in the U.S. in search of better opportunities for them and their families. Social scientists, policy makers, and the public have constantly discussed the idea of assimilation, understood as the process of immigrant incorporation to the host society. In the 21st Century, however, the process of adaptation has become much more complex than the one sociologists theorized about previous generations. U.S. culture, economy, and society, on the one hand, are no longer as homogenous as they were once imagined. On the other, the relationships between different ethnic-racial groups have become considerably more complicated than what the melting pot metaphor and its harmonious ideal of common culture could describe. In the present context, with a society that is highly stratified and ethnically-racially heterogeneous; a post-industrial economy characterized by growing inequality; and a culture that is hyper-mediated by information communication technologies; immigrant processes of assimilation into United States have disparate outcomes, and not everyone is incorporated into the mainstream middle-class. Furthermore, in the present moment, immigrant youth are playing a more active role in the process of assimilation as they actively engage with digital tools and networks, and develop new media practices that shape their incorporation trajectories and the ones of their families.

Due to the characteristics of the last massive wave of immigration that followed the "Immigration and Naturalization act of 1965," the face of the American population has changed. The nation has become more ethnically and racially diverse. At the dawn of the 21st Century, the pan-ethnic Latino/Hispanic group (37 million) surpassed the size of the African American group (36.2 million) becoming for the first time in U.S. history the largest minority. (Clemetson 2003) According to more recent Census data, the Latino/Hispanic population reached 53 million in 2012, six times its size in 1970. (Brown 2014) The U.S. demographic shift is especially visible among the younger population. In public kindergartens, elementary and high schools across the country, Latino/Hispanic students make up nearly one-quarter (23.9%) of the enrollment, and in the most populous states, the share is even bigger, 50% in California and about 40% in Texas. (Fry and Lopez 2012) Although the majority of the Latino/Hispanic public school students (84%) are born in the U.S., most of them are children of immigrants from Mexico (69%), Puerto Rico (9%), Dominican Republic (3%), El Salvador (3%), and Cuba (2%). (Fry and Gonzales 2008) In such context of demographic transformation, researching the Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth population, including both those who are native-born to immigrant parents and those who are foreign-born, is important for understanding the social, cultural, economic, and political transformations of the present and future U.S. How are these new immigrants navigating their assimilation to the host society? What kind of new media practices are shaping their process of incorporation to the U.S.? How are they leveraging new media tools and networks in order to find opportunities of participation across realms such as culture, education, and economy? Moreover, given the Latino/Hispanic group position of disadvantage across several U.S. structural divides, how are these young immigrants navigating U.S. evolving social inequalities? How do different kinds of access to new media technologies (motivational, material, skills, and usage) are affecting their assimilation trajectories? And what kind of identities are they constructing as they engage in new media practices across multiple contexts?

In my dissertation project, “Crossing Many Worlds: New Media Practices, Identities and Assimilation Trajectories of Latino/Hispanic Immigrant Youth in the U.S.”, I try to understand how Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth actively navigate the process of incorporation into a new society, constructing multiple identities and leveraging new media tools and networks. Through a series of case studies of five immigrant youths with Mexican origins (2 girls and 3 boys, ages 14-19), living in the Austin metropolitan area, working class socioeconomic background, and different generational status (1.5 and second-generation), I intend to examine the relationships between new media practices, identity construction, digital inequality, and the process of assimilation to the U.S. I use a transdisciplinary framework in order to understand these relationships. Drawing on sociocultural theory of identity (Holland et al. 1998; Alzaldua 1999; McCarthey & Moje 2002); media and cultural theories of new media practice and participation (Jenkins 2006a, 2006b; Ito et. Al. 2010; Couldry 2012; Carpentier 2010; Livingstone 2002; Varnelis 2008); theories of digital inequality (Warschauer 2002; DiMaggio et al. 2004; Selwyn 2004; van Dijk 2005; Chen and Wellman 2005; Hargittai 2008; Stern et al. 2009; Schradie 2011; Watkins 2012); and sociological theory of segmented assimilation (Portes & Zhou 1993; Rumbaut 1996; Portes & Rumbaut 2001; Portes et. Al. 2005), I will analyze how immigrant youth construct multiple identities as they engage in mediated activities across three different contexts (home, an after-school program, and the Internet). Through the diverse new media practices immigrant youth have within these contexts they create fluid identities, participate in different "figured worlds", and shape their assimilation trajectories.

Despite the constraints that social, economic, educational, and technological inequalities in contemporary U.S. pose to Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth (macro processes), these young individuals exercise their agency and become resilient social actors (micro processes). As they engage in new media practices immigrant youth participate in several figured worlds and cross several sociocultural spaces, situating themselves sometimes in between contexts and producing fluid and hybrid identities. Even though sometimes Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth participation is peripheral as when they are situated in marginal positions of power, their activities and media practices are still significant in terms of identity work and assimilation. In each of the case studies elaborated, I try to demonstrate that immigrant youth with Mexican origins are resilient and hybrid social actors (although with different degrees and outcomes) capable of border-crossing and identity-shifting as they engage in diverse new media practices and enter/exit different contexts.

All of the young immigrants from Mexico that participate in this study are assimilating to the U.S. However, they are following different pathways of incorporation and constructing different identities according to a complex interaction between individual and structural factors. In my analysis I acknowledge both macro and micro processes, and use a middle range theoretical approach where both immigrant youth individual agency and the social structural constraints are interrelated. Because of this approach, I analyze both qualitative data collected during ethnographic work, as well as quantitative data produced by governmental agencies, research centers, and academic institutions.

This research study emerges from the Digital Edge project, a three-year research initiative I participated in, led by S. Craig Watkins at the University of Texas at Austin, and funded by the MacArthur Foundation as part of the Connected Learning Research Network (CLRN). I draw on the qualitative data collected by the Digital Edge team during a longitudinal ethnography (2011-2012) conducted at Freeway High School, a large, ethnically diverse, and economically disadvantaged public high school in the Austin Metropolitan Area.

Primary research questions

  • How are new media practices shaping the incorporation/assimilation process of Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth to the U.S?
  • How do Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth construct multiple identities as they engage in new media practices within and across different contexts (home, an after-school program, and the Internet)?
  • How do different kinds of access to new media technologies (motivational, material, skills, and usage) affect the process of immigrant youth identity production as well as their assimilation trajectories?

Secondary questions

(to be narrowed and refined in order to limit the study to the relation between assimilation and new media practices)

  • How do Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth narrate the new media practices they have within the contexts of home, an after-school program, and the Internet? What are the differences between those practices? How do the cultural, social, human and financial resources of each context shape the new media practices? How are those practices shaped by gender differences?
  • What are the characteristics of the identities that immigrant youth with Mexican origins produce? How are those identities related to different assimilation trajectories? What are the cultural and ethnic traits of those identities?
  • How do new media tools and networks facilitate Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth access to resources and opportunities that help them to assimilate to the U.S? How do new media literacies help them to navigate their assimilation trajectories?


(Will be narrowed in order to facilitate completion of the project)

  • To investigate what immigrant youth are doing with new media, their identity work, and their process of assimilation to the U.S.
  • To describe the assimilation trajectories of a group of young Mexican immigrants, the spaces/figured worlds they navigate, the borders they cross, and their agency in constructing their identities.
  • To understand how the evolving contours of digital inequality affect the process of assimilation in the U.S.
  • To contribute to (test and update) the theory of segmented assimilation by considering the role of new information communication technology (tools and networks) and new media practices in the process of immigrant incorporation into the U.S.
  • To develop a textured rich description of the diversity of new media practices that Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth develop in their everyday lives.

Literature Review

  • Assimilation Theory
    • Classic Assimilation and Alternative Assimilation Theories
    • Segmented Assimilation
      • Socioeconomic Mobility and Immigrant Trajectories
      • Acculturation
      • Measuring Ethnic Identity
      • The Role of the Media
      • Criticism of Segmented Assimilation
  • Latino/Hispanic Immigration and the U.S. Demographic Shift
    • The New Immigration
      • The Rise of Latinos/Hispanics as the Largest Minority
    • Childen of Mexican Immigrants and Mexican Immigrant Youth
    • Immigrant Challenges
      • Intergenerational Trajectories
  • Media Matters
    • The New Communication Environment and Evolving Digital Inequalities
      • The Changing Contours of Divides
      • Latino/Hispanic Material Usage Access
    • Digital Youth and New Media Practices
      • Digital Youth
      • Latino/Hispanic Youth New Media Practices
    • Skills and New Media Literacies
  • Identity Works
    • Multiple and Fluid Identities
    • Social Contexts as Figured Worlds
    • Border Crossing: Navigating Many Worlds

The Site

Participant Profiles

Data & Methods

Dissertation Chapter Outline

0.Introduction and Presentation of the Problem

1.Chapter I. Literature Review

   A. Segmented Assimilation
   B. Historical Context: The U.S. demographic shift and the Latino/Hispanic population
   B. New Media and Digital Inequalities 
   D. Digital Youth and Latino/Hispanic Youth New Media Practices
   E. Skills and New Media Literacies
   C. Figured Worlds and Multiple Identities

2.Chapter II. Data and Methods A. Qualitative Methods 1. Ethnography B. Qualitative Data 1. Narrative 1.1.Semi-structured Interviews: Protocols. 1.2. Focus Groups 3. Texts, Still Images, Videos, and Sounds Data 3.1. Media at home maps 3.2. Social media journals 3.3. SNSs Status updates 3.4. Photos 3.5. Youth-made videos 3.6. Music videos and songs 3.7. Visual memes 3. Data Analysis 5.1. Content Analysis 5.2. Computer Assisted/Aided Qualitative Data Analysis Software B. Quantitative Data

3.Chapter III. Home: Family Relationships and Home Media Environment.

The experience of immigration is overall a family affair. Family dynamics, relationships, and resources are essential to the immigrant youth process of assimilation. They shape many of the assimilation outcomes across multiple dimensions such as language, culture, socioeconomics, education, and identity. Hence, researching the home context is crucial for understanding how the interaction between individual and structural factors can determine different trajectories of assimilation, various forms of acculturation, and particular repertoires of new media practices. In this chapter I analyze the home context of five Latino/Hispanic youths and develop a series of short case studies that provide a panorama of the diversity of home media environments, parenting styles, youth identities, and media and cultural brokering activities. A critical part of my analysis focuses on trying to understand how immigrant youth actively negotiate, within their homes and through their engagement with digital media, the tensions between parental ethnic culture and U.S. culture. More specifically, I try to understand how these boys and girls navigate the tension between “familism” (strong family interconnection), one of the major Latino/Hispanic cultural values, and the individualization and privatization of lifestyles in contemporary U.S. culture. What kind of acculturation (consonant, dissonant, or selective) did characterize the family relationships and how did new media practices shape that process? How did the cultural, social, human and economic resources of the family determine the repertoires of new media practices and skills developed at home? How did Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth narrate those media practices? Which practices were narrated as familial or communal? Which ones were described as individual or private? How were the new media practices within home shaped by gender differences? What kinds of cultural and ethnic traits did the identities constructed within home have?

4.Chapter IV. After School: Digital Media Extracurricular Activities and the Cinematic Arts Project.

Activities out-of-school have become very important in the learning ecologies of children and youth in the U.S. During the last decade, after school programs have proliferated in public schools and community organizations with a great variety of goals, structures, and outcomes. Especially for low-income and minority youth, these kind of programs have become crucial for expanding their access to technology, enrichment opportunities, and narrowing education inequalities. In this Chapter I elaborate a case study of two Latino/Hispanic immigrant boys (Antonio and Sergio) who participated in the FHS digital media oriented after-school space and joined its main programs, the Digital Media Club and the Cinematic Arts Project. Drawing on the analysis of participant observation fieldnotes, semi-structured interviews, and youth-made media texts, I elaborate an analysis of how Antonio and Sergio constructed identities as filmmakers, musicians, and creative artists, and developed several new media literacy skills. Furthermore, I analyze how these Latino/Hispanic boys shared understandings of learning, and struggled to find opportunities where they could continue their creative arts trajectories. How did new media tools and networks accessed within the after school context facilitate Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth access to resources and opportunities that help them to assimilate to the U.S? What kinds of new media literacies did they develop within this context and how did they help them to navigate their assimilation trajectories?

5.Chapter V. The Networked Virtual Space: Interactions across Interconnected Online Contexts

As Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth are increasingly accessing in an everyday basis digital tools and networks, they are spending more time on virtual spaces, communicating and socializing with other humans and machines, and searching, creating, circulating, and consuming different kinds of multimodal content and information. In the current networked communication environment, immigrant youth who have access to Internet connectivity can enter and exit online contexts where they find opportunities to participate across various realms, in diverse ways, and with different degrees of engagement. From music listening to visual meme creation, from familial communication to civic organization, from game play to information seeking, the potential for participating across several societal realms has expanded considerably. Although the conditions and structures of participation vary across the different virtual contexts, Social Network Sites (SNS), search engines, massively multiplayer online game, online forums, and audiovisual archives, all offer opportunities for engaging in new media practices. Assuming the networked virtual space as made up of multiple interconnected contexts, in this Chapter I elaborate short five case studies on the new media practices and identities that each of the study participants developed within this complex space. How did differential kinds of accesses (motivational, material, skills, and usage) affect immigrant participation online? How did immigrant youth narrate their activities within the spaces that conform the networked virtual context? What were the identities that immigrant youth construct within and across online-networked space? What were the cultural and ethnic traits of those identities? How did the networked virtual space facilitate Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth access to resources and opportunities that shaped their assimilation to the U.S? How did they navigate the complex web of online spaces? and what kinds of new media practices and skills did they develop as they entered/exited multiple interconnected virtual contexts?

6.Chapter VI. Conclusion